Recently reprinted by Titan Books, Michael Kurland’s Edgar Award-nominated The Infernal Device is the first of his Professor Moriarty novels and takes the familiar Victorian detective fiction themes but casts Sherlock Holmes’ famous nemesis as the main protagonist.
We follow an American journalist, Benjamin Barrett, who meets Moriarty in Constantinople where a new submarine is being tested. On the day of the test, the submarine is blown up and Barrett is framed for the murder of a British spy who had been showing him around. Finding himself in jail, Moriarty offers him freedom if he then joins him in London and work for him for two years. Accepting the offer, Barrett finds himself investigating a world of Russian terrorist organisations and a plot to strike at the heart of the British Empire.
I adore Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series and Professor Moriarty is one of the most famous villains of all time, despite only appearing directly in two of the original stories, so I was intrigued to find out the kind of man Kurland had fleshed him out to be. The answer is very much like Sherlock Holmes, but one with an even greater superiority complex, as you would expect. However, despite the complete lack of regard for the law, I found Moriarty to be… too nice. The Moriarty we meet here is happy to do things his own way, but he isn’t a ‘Napoleon of Crime’ by any means. Rather than a mastermind criminal - the spider controlling a vast and unknowable web of plots, murder and wrongdoing - he’s a consultant, exactly like Holmes, but he doesn’t mind consulting for criminals. Holmes meanwhile has strangely lost all sense of reason and has developed an illogical obsession with Moriarty - constantly popping up trying to prove that it is Moriarty who is behind the kidnap of a duke’s daughter. I find this slightly baffling myself - as though Kurland is trying to take Holmes down a peg or two.
Aside from this, the plot is very Holmes-like but more in the style of imitations rather than the original - with rogues and villains dashing around Victorian London’s streets, brand new mechanical inventions highlighting the expanding industrial age and alarming battles in hot air balloons pushing the action forward.
First published in 1978, The Infernal Device is the first of a series of eight stories in the Professor Moriarty series, and has presumably been reprinted to coincide with the release of the latest instalment, Who Thinks Evil. I think it has stood up to the test of time well and even though I personally did not find it to be a brilliant piece of detective fiction, if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and associated stories it would be worth having a look at this series so you can decide for yourself what you think of this incarnation of Professor Moriarty.
Review by Cat Fitzpatrick
The Infernal Device
A Professor Moriarty Novel
Professor Moriarty, erstwhile Mathematics professor, is not 'the greatest rogue unhanged' that Sherlock Holmes would have one believe, but rather an amoral genius - [...]
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Tim from Australia
How can someone who writes books be so insensitive to langauge? Michael Kurland seems not to have noticed that the English language varies both between countries and across time. In his reported speech he frequently has Englishmen at the turn of the 20th century using late 20th century American phrases. To give only one of many examples, the ugly and illogical phrase 'as of yet' would certainly not have been used by his characters. These errors provided repeated distractions from what would otherwise have been reasonably pleasant reading.
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